The other day, I was looking over a men’s health magazine and came across an article about how the guys from the movie “300″ trained. If you ever checked out the movie “300″ you will see that all of the actors in that movie were in tremendous condition, including the star, Gerard Butler.
I believe the main premise of the article was how to use certain exercises performed in a certain manner that would produce the optimal amount of natural growth hormone release.
I read the article over and thought it was a pretty good article which outlined how certain weight training exercise regimes can really boost your natural growth hormone production. Of course, we all know that more natural growth hormone you have in your system, combined with a higher natural testosterone count will lead to higher gains in lean muscle mass.
I have to admit, the exercise regime for those actors, in it’s whole format seemed harmless, but if you performed these exercises in succession of each other, it makes for a pretty intense workout. Here’s the workout:
• Pull ups: 25 reps;
• Dead lifts (135 pounds): 50 reps;
• Push ups: 50 reps;
• Box jumps with 24 inch boxes: 50 reps;
• Floor wipers (135 pounds): 50 reps;
• Kettle bell cleans and presses (36 pounds): 50 reps;
• Pull ups: 25 reps;
Each exercise is to be performed in succession with no rest between exercises. This is a very intense set that, I would imagine, require a huge amount of energy and effort. Imagine trying to do 3 sets with this type of set and rep scheme. Anyways, my curiosity got the better of me, and I went over the entire article.
Now, after reading the article, it really got me thinking. It got me thinking to the first time I truly understood the power of exercise choice, correct poundage choice, and intensity levels. Back in the early 90’s, I read an article by strength trainer and writer, Bill Starr. The program was a strength and muscle builder that used only compound exercises, that were performed three times per week. On day one, you trained your upper body, on day two, you trained the lower body, and so on and so forth. At that time, I was using a 3 day body split training program performed 5 times per week.
After reading Bill’s article and training program, I decided to implement his training program. At that time, I never understood why weight trainers would do full body splits. However, I was also using isolation exercises such as cable curls and triceps kick backs. Anyways, his article really got me inspired so I decided to give his weight training ideas and program 12 weeks.
I immediately stopped all training and took one week off before attempting Bill’s suggested program. The program was broken down into two workouts, and upper body workout and a lower body workout. I would perform the upper body workout on Monday (day one), and the lower body workout on Wednesday (day two), and simply repeat this cycle for the next 8 weeks. The program also concentrated heavily on the following exercises:
• Dead lifts;
• Bench press;
• Power cleans;
• Shoulder press;
From week one to week 12, all I did was concentrate all efforts on those compound exercises. I remember looking at the program and thinking that it didn’t look all that hard to do. I mean, there was basically one exercise, maybe two at the most for some body parts, and it didn’t look too difficult to do.
Anyways, the program was extremely difficult to do and there were some workouts in that period that were simply mind blowing. The people in the gym thought I was crazy doing 6 sets of 6 squats with 6 sets of 6 stiff leg dead lifts. I was the hardest working dude in that gym. However, nobody made the same gains I made.
To be honest, I’ve never made those kinds of strength and size gains and the program made me a firm believer in compound movements, exercise duration, and poundage choices. Prior to that, I was getting a little soft with my exercise choices and performing more “refining” exercises such as single arm lat pull downs, cable curls, two arm straight arm lat pull downs, and so forth. It was no wonder I didn’t really gain any muscle at that time.
After 12 weeks on the program, I simply puffed out. My body simply grew because I basically forced it to grow from the gut busting workouts I was doing in the gym. I mean, I looked like a big, muscular dude who could move some serious weight – Which at the time, I could. Anyways, I gained about 15 pounds of lean muscular weight, while at the same time, reducing my body fat percentage.
Also remember, I really concentrated on my nutrition as well which really accounted for a lot of the success. However, the change in my training routine, really boosted my metabolism and anything I ate got used immediately.
I’ve often wondered how core compound movements can have such a huge impact on muscular growth. Based on the research I’ve done and from my own personal experience, here’s what I’ve concluded:
• Compound movements such as the squat, dead lift, and bench press use multiple joints and muscle groups. The squat and dead lift, in particular help with the release of hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone which help increase strength, build muscle and decrease body fat levels. Compared to isolation exercise such as leg extensions, the squats will help release a lot more growth hormone.
It’s has been found that large increases in growth hormone occur after squats, but not for leg extensions. A study in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research reported that the overhead squat is the king of growth hormone release. I am a firm believer and know for a fact that you won’t find a better muscle builder than core, compound exercises such as the squat and dead lift.
• Natural testosterone – the top dog of muscle building hormones is greatly affected by exercise choice. I’m sure that you know that the more natural occurring testosterone you have in your system, the better the environment for building strength, muscle, and reducing body fat levels. Natural increases in testosterone go hand in hand with compound movements that large larger muscle groups. An example is the squat, dead lift, and power cleans. Why? These movements will use a greater amount of muscle tissue and will force you to work harder. This in turn, almost forces your body to produce more testosterone.
• By forcing your body to work harder, you will ultimately burn more calories and therefore fat when performing compound exercises. If there ever were perfect exercises for burning fat and building muscle, compound exercises would be it. Key compound exercises will be the most effective, and efficient weight training movements you can do.
• Your metabolic rate will improve. The more efficient your metabolism is, the more fat your going to burn. If there was ever a metabolism booster, compound exercises would be it.
In essence, compound lifts forces your body to work extremely hard (higher intensity) which basically forces your body to produce more key muscle building hormones to cope. Combined, growth hormone and testosterone produce the absolute best muscle building and fat burning properties.
So, What’s The Point?
What it comes down to is exercise intensity. Intensity is the key to maximum muscle growth and fat loss. The harder your work in a span of one hour, the more you force your muscles to work, the more gains you’re going to make. It’s as simple as that. If you can go to the gym, put in one hour of solid work using compound movements, your going to build muscle and burn fat. I know, it’s been said that you can’t do both but let me say, from personal experience, that if you can do these weight training exercise in a manner that produces the optimal amounts of intensity, you can do it. Just watch what you eat and you’ll soon see those results.
Ok, what is the best way to build muscle with a weight training routine. First off, let me say that everyone is different and some routines will produce different results. However, I will say this, a dead lift is a dead lift. A squat is a squat. No matter who you are, these exercises are going to be hard to perform and it’s this consistency that makes these weight training exercises special. Of course not everyone will progress at the same rate but trust me, these exercise will work if you give them the proper attention.
Alright, what kind of program is best way to gain muscle?
Over the past 20 odd years or so of weight training, I have to admit, I’ve tried A LOT of workouts looking for the best way to gain muscle mass. You name it, from super sets to super slow sets, from high intensity training to high volume training, I’ve tried them, and all with one purpose in mind, to find a better and more efficient weight training program to build muscle and strength.
I know that a lot of you are looking for a weight training program that will do:
• Build strength;
• Build muscle;
• Burn fat;
So, what is the best method to gain muscle in terms of weight training? Well, first let me say that I’m not going to get into goals, discipline, and motivation because I’m going to assume that you have those in place and you want a method to go along with your strong desire to better your physical element.
The most important thing you have to remember about any weight training routine is that you absolutely must get strong before you can begin to build muscle. You simply cannot build muscle without getting strong first. I think this is where a lot of confusion happens to beginners and intermediate weight trainers. Muscle doesn’t magically appear without first having “warning” signs that it’s about to grow. These warning signs are strength signals. Once your body starts to get strong, it will, over time, start to grow in order to accommodate more strength – Provided you feed it correctly and give it plenty of rest. However, all things being equal, your body will start to get strong before it will grow any muscle.
Really, when you get right down to it, the best weight training program that will build the maximum amount of muscle is one in which you have to really train hard with. That is, the training program must force your body, over time, to work harder and harder with each training session. That’s the key. The harder you work at exercises that are designed to work your total body, will produce the best results for producing strength and building muscle. Your exercise choice will have a direct impact on how much strength and muscle mass you wish to acquire.
Yes, exercise choice will determine how hard you force your body to work. I think this is the number one mistake most weight trainers make in their training program. A lot of weight trainers simply refuse to incorporate the exercises that will add slabs of beef to your body. If you ever wanted to build the maximum amount of muscle while maintaining, or even losing body fat, these exercises must be done. These exercise are not secret and they are very simple to perform, however, they do require a lot of effort in order to get the most from them.
The way I look at it is that the sooner you start incorporating these types of exercises into your weight training routine the better. Let me rephrase that – The sooner you make these exercises your top priority in your weight training program, the better. Okay, what are these exercises and how can you use them to make the best muscle gains. Well, these weight training exercises are compound movements. Compound movements are as follows:
• Dead lifts;
• Barbell press;
• Bench press;
• Bent over rows;
• Olympic lifts – power clean and snatches;
These exercise are but a few of the many compound movements that you can use in your weight training routine. Let me pose this question. Would you rather do leg extensions or squats? Would you rather do lat machine pull downs or dead lifts or bent over rows? These exercise choices will determine how hard you work, which in turn, will determine how strong you get which determines how much muscle you can grow.
Of course, you can get plenty strong with concentration curls but, to tell you the truth, your biceps will only get the benefit. However, what if I was to tell you that you can build more strength, build more muscle mass in your biceps while at the same time, boosting your overall torso strength and mass. Four words for you, barbell bent over rows. The barbell bent over row is mainly for the back but indirectly, you train your forearms and biceps. Since this exercise incorporates other muscle groups such as the lower, mid, and upper back, you basically hit all the muscle groups. Heavy bent over rows will build more biceps mass than concentration curls ever will. This is but one example of the magic of compound movements.
Alright, I think you get the point that compound exercises will produce the best results for muscle building and fat burning. What type of routine, will utilize these exercises the best?
The type of weight training program that is best for gaining muscle mass is one that:
• Makes compound movements a priority above isolation exercises. These weight training exercises must be done first and foremost in your workout routine;
• Really work hard at these exercises. Put forth a strong effort into compound movements and you’ll be well rewarded. Put forth a lack luster effort and you’ll get lack luster results. Of course, if you are just starting out, you will build up to this kind of intensity. However, the nature of these exercises will force you to work harder, even if you are to use light weights.
• Remember, to use these movements for the optimal results, use a weight that is suited for you. Simply heaving the heaviest weight possible while using poor form will results in an injury. You should be using about 75% to 85% of your max on your work sets.
If you are serious about gaining lean muscle mass, try making the compound movement first in your training program. If you are using an isolation exercise such as cable laterals first in your weight training program, get rid of it and substitute power cleans or a barbell press.
For training the chest, try making the bench press a priority. If you are training legs, make the squat the priority. For the shoulders, make the power clean or barbell press your priority. For your back make the dead lift and barbell bent over row you priority. Limit the use of isolation exercises to one per body part and never make that exercise a priority. If you are looking to gain lean, hard muscle mass, drop these exercises and opt for compound exercises.
Here is a basic, compound training routine.
Upper Body – Day 1
• Power cleans 4 x 8 reps;
• Dead lifts 3 x 7 reps;
• Bench press 3 x 7 reps;
• Barbell bent over rows 3 x 7 reps;
• Seated barbell press 3 x 7 reps;
• Shrugs 3 x 8 reps.
Lower Body – Day 2
• Squats 4 x 7 reps;
• Leg Press 3 x 8 reps;
• Stiff leg dead lifts 4 x 8 reps;
• Lying leg curls 3 x 8 reps
Here is how the weight training routine will look:
Monday – Day 1 Upper Body
Tuesday – Rest
Wednesday – Day 2 Lower Body
Thursday – Rest
Friday – Repeat
This a basic routine, but an effective one. Rest about 60 seconds to 90 seconds in between each set.
Remember, this is a simple, full body routine and you can customize it any way you see fit, however, remember the points above. To view the exercises, try going to building muscle 101’s weight training exercise illustrations and descriptions page located at:
Also, nutrition is the other half of this equation and one you definitely need to understand in order to build maximum amounts of muscle. There are a few resources in this website that you should go over. Here are some pages for further reading about muscle building nutrition:
If you can remember the importance of incorporating compound movements into your training program, you can really start building some muscle.
All the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.